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Free Study Guide for Great Expectations by Charles Dickens-Book Summary

 

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PLOT ANALYSIS - GREAT EXPECTATIONS


CHAPTER 52


Summary

Two notes arrive for Pip. The first is from Wemmick, telling Pip that despite his burns, Magwitch’s escape must be attempted the following week. The second is anonymous, but promises to reveal information about Uncle Provis if Pip will come to the sluice house near the marshes alone.


Notes

Pip’s worth as a human being seems clear in this chapter. He has followed through on Herbert’s career, making certain his good friend is well provided for. And he has been a loyal protector for his benefactor, despite his own feelings about the whole ordeal. He is redeeming himself by these little things he does.


CHAPTER 53



Summary

The second note is part of a trick, and as soon as Pip enters, he is hit and bound by Orlick, who plans to revenge himself against Pip. Orlick holds Pip responsible for Biddy’s dislike of him and for being fired by Jaggers. He admits it was he who attacked Mrs. Joe, Pip’s sister, years ago. And it was he who spied on Pip the night Magwitch arrived. He reveals he is working with Compeyson. Just as Pip is about to be injured, he is rescued by the arrival of Herbert, Startop and Trabb’s boy, who had followed him to the marshes. Orlick flees and Pip returns to London to help Magwitch escape.


Notes

Another great Dickensian coincidence takes place in this chapter, in which Pip leaves the note at home and Herbert realizes something is suspect. Orlick is revealed as the villain he is, and the mystery of Mrs. Joe’s attack is cleared up at last.


CHAPTER 54


Summary

They now prepare for the ordeal of Magwitch’s escape. The plan is to row all day till they reach between Kent and Essex. They plan to halt ashore at night and take a morning steamer for either Hamburg or Rotterdam. At their night stop, they are informed that there are officers on the prowl. The next morning, just as Magwitch is about to board the steamer, the officers accompanied by Compeyson confront Magwitch. The two convicts fall into the water and fight. Compeyson disappears and Magwitch is seriously injured. The police recover him and take him into custody.


Notes

Magwitch’s capture is a tragic but revealing incident. He is content to be arrested now that he has met Pip and has seen that he is a gentleman. His speech is quite eloquent: “I’ve seen my boy and he can be a gentleman without me.” And Pip, in his wisdom, realizes Magwitch need not know that Pip will not inherit his ill-gained wealth. It will be seized by the state, as Pip had well known. And Pip sees in Magwitch something he had not counted on: honor and respectability. He watches Magwitch in prison and remarks “...my repugnance to him had all melted away and in the hunted, wounded, shackled creature who held my hand in his, I only saw a man who had meant to be my benefactor, and who had felt affection, gratefully, and generously towards me with great constancy through a series of years. I only saw in him a much better man than I had been to Joe.” Pip has learned a great but painful lesson. Further, he has acted out of no “great expectations;” Magwitch has nothing to give that Pip will take. Pip makes sure the money is not his, and then his actions stand solely in light of his character, not greed or ambition.


CHAPTER 55


Summary

Magwitch is sentenced to death, but it seems clear he will die from the injuries Compeyson dealt him in the water.

Wemmick and Pip go for a walk at the end of which Wemmick leads Pip into a church where he is all set to marry Miss Skiffins. The wedding proceeds excellently.


Notes

With the depressing incident of Magwitch’s death sentence being passed, Dickens has added one of hope and happiness each in this chapter to balance his narrative. The offer by Herbert to fill the post of a clerk in his office brings renewed hope to Pip’s heart. And the delightful surprise of Wemmick’s wedding balances out the tragedy that has led up to it. The superb craftsmanship of Dickens is evident with the way he introduces some comic relief when the pace and tone of the novel seems inevitably tragic.


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